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What Is... Cliff Clavin?

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"What Is... Cliff Clavin?"
Cheers episode
Cliff Clavin in Jeopardy.png
Cliff Clavin bets all $22,000 winnings and loses all in the final round of Jeopardy!
Episode no. Season 8
Episode 14
Directed by Andy Ackerman
Written by Dan O'Shannon
Tom Anderson
Production code 182[1]
Original air date January 18, 1990 (U.S.)[2]
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Sammy and the Professor"
Next →
"Finally! Part 1"
Cheers (season 8)
List of Cheers episodes

"What Is... Cliff Clavin?" is an eighth season episode of the American television series Cheers. It was directed by Andy Ackerman rather than James Burrows—who directed 243 out of 273 episodes of the show—and originally aired on January 18, 1990.[2] In this episode, Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) appears on the game show Jeopardy! and game show host Alex Trebek guest stars as himself. Cliff racks up US$22,000 during the game but loses it all in the final round. The episode received praise from critics for its concept and its guest star.


Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) competes on the television game show Jeopardy!, which has temporarily moved taping to Boston for a special occasion, and amasses $22,000 by the end of the Double Jeopardy! round, more than twice the score of the second place contestant, theoretically ensuring a win. For the Final Jeopardy! clue of "Archibald Leach, Bernard Schwartz and Lucille LeSueur" in the category of "Movies", Cliff responds incorrectly with "Who are 3 people who've never been in my kitchen?" Having wagered his entire score, Cliff loses all of his winnings.[3] Cliff objects and argues, demanding that his answer be accepted. The show's host, Alex Trebek, later arrives at Cheers, tells Cliff that his response should have been accepted earlier, and announces his resignation as the host of Jeopardy!. However, Cliff convinces Trebek to remain as host by telling him how much the show and Trebek mean to him. After Cliff shares the news with others, Norm Peterson (George Wendt) praises Trebek for doing this just to make Cliff feel better. However, Trebek says that he did not realize that Cliff was at the bar and that meeting him had been a coincidence. Trebek says that Cliff scares him and that the story about quitting the show was a fabrication to placate him.

Meanwhile, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) receives telephone calls from women whom he previously dated; they are angry with him for making dates and not arriving. He eventually discovers that his "little black book" has been stolen and enrolls the help of bar patrons to find it. Through their detective work, Sam discovers that the thief has called Sam's women alphabetically and that Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) is the next recipient on the list. The thief turns out to be a teenage boy named Timmy (Greg E. Davis), who wants to become a "babe hound" like Sam. To let Timmy go, Sam tells him to start as a "babe pup" and to call girls who are around his age, and gives him $25 for a haircut and a tip for a shampoo girl.


General Norman Schwarzkopf said this was the funniest episode of Cheers.[4] Don Leighton from Superior Telegram called this episode the greatest and said the Final Jeopardy! moment was hilarious.[5] Jeffrey Robinson from DVD Talk said the category topics – specifically "Civil Servants", "Stamps from Around the World", "Mothers and Sons", "Beer", "Bar Trivia", and "Celibacy" from the first round of Jeopardy! – and the concept of the episode were a riot.[6] Hot Springs Village Voice called Cliff's Final Jeopardy! moment a classic example of his mishaps caused by his own "know-it-all nature".[7] Andrew Razeghi, in his book Hope, called this episode "one of the most memorable episodes" of Cheers, found Cliff's response to the Final Jeopardy! clue neither right nor wrong and an example of divergent thinking, and called Cliff a poster child of Joy Paul Guilford.[1] Former Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, in his book Brainiac, considered this episode of all Jeopardy!-related episodes essential as other episodes that focus on characters who either are trapped in an elevator or have two dates on the same night.[8]


An early Jeopardy! reference to the Cheers episode happened during the airing of the final round of the Jeopardy! College Championship on May 18, 1990. Soon-to-be champion Michael Thayer of Rutgers College bet $0 and wrote "Who was someone I never met?" as his response in the Final Jeopardy! round. When the contestants' wagers and responses were revealed, Trebek commented, "Michael, looks like you were watching that episode of Cheers."[9] In 1999, another Jeopardy! contestant responded to the Final Jeopardy! clue with this question, inspired by Cliff Clavin's incorrect response in the Final Jeopardy! round: "What is a book that has never been in my kitchen?" According to Michael Gordeuk from Westfield, New Jersey, Alex Trebek later recalled Cliff's losing moment and then "broke into a huge laugh".[10]

Peter Wayner from InfoWorld defined "pulling a Clavin" as a reference to Cliff Clavin's wagering all his leading score and then losing all to a zero in the Final Jeopardy! round and as a tactic to avoid in Jeopardy![11] In the Jeopardy! fan community, the episode gave rise to what is known as "Clavin's Rule" (or "pulling a Cliff Clavin"), a rule of thumb that states that a player should not wager enough to endanger a "lock" or "runaway" game (one where the first-place player has more than twice the score of the second-place player), no matter how tempting the category.[12]

In the Double Jeopardy! round of the Jeopardy! episode from May 10, 2005, the categories were the same as those shown in Cliff Clavin's game: CIVIL SERVANTS, STAMPS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, MOTHERS & SONS, BEER, "BAR" TRIVIA, and CELIBACY.[13]

On the first episode of Jeopardy! season 31, which aired on September 15, 2014, Jeopardy! champion Elizabeth Williams echoed Cliff Clavin's answer in her response to the Final Jeopardy clue. Williams' $600 wager combined with her opponents' incorrect responses allowed Williams to triumph that day, nonetheless.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Razeghi 2006, "The Psychobiology of Cliff Clavin", p. 34.
  2. ^ a b Richmond 2004, p. 80.
  3. ^ Dennis A. Bjorklund (1997). Toasting Cheers. p. 231. ISBN 9780899509624. 
  4. ^ Lipton, Michael A. (May 24, 1993). "Lights Out at Sam's Place". People 39 (20). Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Spartans win". Superior Telegram (Superior, Wisconsin). July 23, 2010. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ Robinson, Jeffrey (June 18, 2006). "Cheers - The Complete Eighth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Cheers star John Ratzenberger to be marshal at St. Patrick's Day parade". Hot Springs Village Voice. December 3, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  8. ^ Jennings, Ken (2006). "What Is Audition?". Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. New York: Villard—Random. Retrieved May 5, 2012 – via Google Books. 
  9. ^ "Responses for Show #1330, aired 1990-05-18". J! Archive. 1990-05-18. Retrieved 2011-10-13. 
  10. ^ Gordeuk, Michael. Bianculli, David, editor. (November 29, 1999). "Readers Give Extra Effort Slumbering Star, 'Jeopardy' Jokester Detected". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 26, 2012. 
  11. ^ Wayner, Peter (February 16, 2011). "How IBM's Watson hammered its 'Jeopardy' foes". InfoWorld. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  12. ^ "J! Archive Help: Clavin's Rule". J! Archive. Retrieved June 26, 2012. 
  13. ^ "J! Archive - Show #4772, aired 2005-05-10". J! Archive. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  14. ^ Bradley, Bill (September 18, 2014). "This Jeopardy! Contestant's 'Cheers' Reference Is The Best Fail Ever". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2014. 


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